My Word: Secret successes

The successes of a country’s intelligence services rarely get full credit. It is the botched operations which receive most scrutiny.

Mabhouh coffin 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Mabhouh coffin 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
If you think we’ve got the bomb and our enemies think we’ve got the bomb, does it really matter if we have it or not?” Golda Meir is said to have once asked. Her words came back to mind with the story of the assassination in Dubai of Hamas top operative Mahmoud Mabhouh late last month.
Hamas was quick to point the finger at Israel and Israel remained remarkably quiet. The successes of a country’s intelligence services rarely get full credit. It is the botched operations – like the failed attempt to eliminate Hamas head Khaled Mashaal in Jordan in 1997 – which receive most scrutiny.
Mashaal now resides in Damascus where he still pulls Hamas strings in Gaza and plays a role in, among other things, determining the fate of abducted soldier Gilad Schalit.
Whether or not Israel is behind Mabhouh’s death is almost irrelevant. Neither Hamas nor its partner-in-crime Hizbullah need an excuse to hit Israel. It’s what they do. If the well-executed execution can increase Israel’s deterrence, it is welcome. That the country’s enemies are living a life of fear adds an element of poetic justice. Israelis, after all, never know when or where the next missile will fall or the next bomb will explode.
And nobody here was shedding a tear for the terrorist, although a few tears were shed remembering his victims.
Mabhouh helped found Hamas’s armed wing Izzadin Kassam in the 1980s and was perhaps most infamous for being behind the kidnapping and murder in the first intifada of IDF soldiers Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sa’adon. Hamas held out against revealing the location of their bodies, neither of whose last minutes were spent in anything like a luxury hotel. Sasportas’s body was discovered after three months, while it took seven years to find the remains of Sa’adon and offer his family closure.
One of the associations with Meir was her order to hunt down the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Massacre in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed.
Mabhouh was also reportedly behind the weapons convoy that, foreign reports claim, was bombed by Israel in the Sudanese desert during Operation Cast Lead a year ago.
IT’S NOT hard to imagine the frustration of former premier Ehud Olmert, mainly remembered by the public for his failings in the Second Lebanon War and the many corruption cases tied to his name. Possibly two of his greatest successes are the operations in Sudan and Syria, for which Israel has not taken credit.
There is “nowhere in the world” that Israel cannot reach, Olmert said at the Herzliya Conference in March 2009, a month after the Sudan hit, hoping that whoever needed to would get the hint. Israel allegedly bombed a covert nuclear facility in Syria in September 2007, and a year later was widely accused of killing Hizbullah operative Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus.
Mughniyeh deserved a high spot on any hit list for the role he is considered to have played in, among other acts of infamy, the bombings in Buenos Aires in the 1990s and the abduction and deaths of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser at the outset of Lebanon II in July 2006.
Also on any presumed hit list was the name of Syrian Gen. Muhammad Suleiman – reportedly a close adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad, head of his country’s nuclear program, and a liaison to Hizbullah and Hamas. He was assassinated by a sniper in August 2008. And there is still the mysterious recent death in Teheran of a nuclear scientist to consider.
Such cases leave plenty of room for imagination. Following the Mabhouh affair, Yediot Aharonot couldn’t resist the temptation of recalling the “silent women” who reportedly took part in former Mossad operations, from “Cindy” who helped trap nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu; Sylvia Raphael, who served time in a Norwegian prison for her role in the attempt to kill one of the Munich perpetrators but who was caught with other members of the team after mistakenly shooting an innocent man; and Yehudit Nessyahu, the only woman who participated in the capture of Adolf Eichmann.
And who could miss the irony in the manner in which the hit team reportedly hung a “Please do not disturb” sign on the Dubai hotel room door?
Of course it might never be publicly known whether the country’s stealthy secret service were behind the attack. Nonetheless, there was notable praise for Mossad head Meir Dagan at last week’s cabinet meeting. “He was always one of the best,” National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau reportedly enthused.
Landau’s name was raised by Hamas in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The terror organization claimed that the assassination squad had entered Dubai after accompanying the minister on a mission to nearby Abu Dhabi two weeks before the killing. Landau termed the allegations “the combination of a wild Eastern imagination hand-in-hand with Arab anger that the Israeli flag was waving at a conference in Abu Dhabi.”
It is hard to imagine that the Mossad – if it was the Mossad – would need Landau’s entourage to help enter Dubai. And it’s even harder to conceive that level of cooperation between the highly independent Mossad and a government ministry with which it has no natural ties.
One hopes, however, that the government is united in understanding the need to take action to eliminate those who threaten it. And not just it. Mahbouh, like Mughniyeh, was but one evil man on an axis that ties extremists in Syria, Iran, North Korea and Sudan.
THE LATEST targeted killing, while increasing Israel’s deterrence, does not put an end to the threats by any means. Just last week, the country was exposed to a new low-tech danger when the term “explosive barrels” entered its lexicon and consciousness.
Southern beaches were closed as explosives-laden barrels were heard detonating in the Mediterranean and began washing up on them. There is only one place they could have come from. The current and an ill wind carried them from Gaza in a possible attempt to hit power stations or desalination plants or, perhaps, the naval patrol boats protecting the coast.
The floating bombs also threatened commercial ships and even Palestinian fishermen, but Hamas and its allies have never been fussy about who they kill.
The country was already on high alert before the first two barrels detonated at sea on January 29. Israel knew to expect something, although “explosive barrels” had not apparently figured among the likely scenarios. Like the “tractor attacks” which hit Jerusalem in July 2008, it takes a particular kind of mind to think of them as a weapon.
“Cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days,” said Ecclesiastes.
Although open to interpretation, one common meaning is “always be prepared to do a good turn even if you don’t expect to be rewarded for it.”
I find myself hoping that for Hamas it means the barrels of death it sends out to sea will find their way back to it in one lethal form or another.
For as surely as Hamas and Hizbullah et al. are planning their next attack, somewhere there is a team quietly working out how to stop them. Even if it cannot be openly rewarded or praised.